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STUCK IN THE MATRIX - by Coach Julie Poland

It’s sometimes hard for team members to prioritize work effectively, especially in growing businesses where the scope of a particular job tends to creep. Sometimes this is a temporary situation, rectified with an addition to staff as the responsibilities grow. Other times the situation devolves into one where the team member reports to two or more bosses, and struggles to meet the requirements of both leaders. The employee underperforms (or fails) because they become stuck in the matrix.

Matrix reporting structures have provided several advantages to organizations:

· Maintain functional (vertical) reporting structures

· Incorporate a specialty or project management (horizontal) dimension

· Team members are given the opportunity to expand their experiences and exposure to a different leader during special projects

· Cross-functional cooperation makes the most of available talent resources

Sometimes, though, the solid line-dotted line reporting structure in a matrix

creates a tug of war for the employee’s attention. Whose work should be completed first? It’s not always made clear.

If you see the benefits of implementing matrix organizational structure but don’t want the associated pitfalls, consider these:

· Sharing a team member within a function is easier than sharing them among several functional (vertical) channels. The functional group has shared priorities.

· Functional and specialty/project leaders need to communicate frequently to make sure they are on the same page re: priorities for the multi-role team members.

· Team leaders need a shared understanding of the criteria for performance, and how performance feedback is going to be handled.

· Consider testing your matrix structure for temporary projects before implementing it over the whole org chart.

If matrix structure is not handled properly, your senior leaders are setting team members up to fail. Some performers can toggle back and forth among multiple priorities seamlessly, but some cannot. If that skill (handling multiple priorities) is critical to the role under your organizational structure, be certain to incorporate that expectation into your hiring process.

*Photo credit: Marvin Meyer on


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